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Ségolène Royal asks supermarkets to end food waste

media French Environment and Energy Minister Segolene Royal (R) withFrench Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius Reuters/Pascal Rossignol

French Environment Minister Ségolène Royal on Thursday summoned supermarket bosses to discuss efforts to reduce food waste. After measures in a recent law were struck down, she wants a voluntary programme of passing products near their sell-by date to charity.

Most of France's big supermarket chains declared their intention of signing Ségolène Royal's pledges before the meeting had even taken place, even if they complained that they were being unfairly blamed for waste.

Royal wanted them to promise to donate unsold food to charities and has laid into the practise of rendering products inedible by spraying them with bleach.

The retailers say that does not happen often and that, when it does, it is to avoid being blamed for consumers falling ill after eating food past its sell-by date.

They also claim that they are already doing what the minister proposes.

The French waste an average of 20-30 kilos each per year, according to a report submitted in April.

A 2010 European Commission study found that retailers were responsible for only 6.6 per cent of food waste, compared to restaurants, responsible for 12.5 per cent, food processors (7.3 per cent) and households, responsible for a massive 73.6 per cent.

Other studies have put the retailers' share higher, at 11 per cent, but still way below that of individual consumers.

Food banks bear out the claim, saying that 35 per cent of their donations come from supermarkets.

Above all, the retailers want to avoid a law, claiming that it would be "pointless".

The Constitutional Council earlier this year struck down two clauses in this year's energy transition law - to impose an agreement to donate unsold food and ban the use of bleach - for procedural reasons.

But right-wing politician Arash Derambash has drafted a new law and insisits it is necessary because, he claims, two-thirds of French supermarkets are franchises, which are not bound by the parent companies' commitments.

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